Essay Writing

Each fellowship or scholarship will require you to write at least one essay, which is arguably the most important part of many competitive awards.

This essay is your opportunity to explain to the fellowship selection committee:

  • Who you are and how you became that way
  • What's important to you and why
  • Your short- and long-term goals and aspirations
  • Why you are an excellent candidate
  • Why your project is sound and vitally important
  • How you embody the values that the fellowship program seeks to promote

Because of the emphasis placed on the essay, it is important to allow sufficient time to think about, write, obtain critical feedback on, and revise your essay so that it covers what is requested and reflects you at your best.


Before you get started writing, you’ll want to read the essay question very carefully. Typically, essay questions are comprehensive and fairly open-ended. If you address all the points thoroughly, your essay could go on for pages. Identify the most important points of the question–the points most relevant to you–and concentrate on those.

How to begin writing your essay:

  1. Organize your thoughts and make an outline.
  2. Just write. Don’t worry about the prescribed length of the essay. At this stage, you want to include everything. It is much easier to delete than to add.
  3. Look at the binders of essays submitted by past University of Rochester fellowship applicants.
  4. Identify faculty members who are willing to advise you and assist you as you write your essay.
  5. Consult with the fellowships coordinator throughout the process.


Revise, revise, revise. Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer once said, "There is no such thing as good writing–only good rewriting." You are strongly encouraged to establish a relationship early with a writing tutor from the Writing, Speaking and Argument Program.

We also recommend getting critical feedback on your essay from professors, mentors, the fellowships coordinator, a writing consultant, and friends who know you well. Consider their comments and suggestions as you revise your work.



When editing for content you’ll want to think about the following questions:

  • Have you answered the questions?
  • Are your facts accurate?
  • Are all proper names spelled correctly?
  • Did you spell out acronyms the first time you use them?

Also, please keep in mind that while your readers will be intelligent and well-educated, but not necessarily experts in your field; use jargon sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.

You’ll also want to check the balance of your essay. Be sure that you have spent the most space in your essay discussing the most important thing.

Grammar and Style

It’s important to edit for grammar, tone, style, and usage. When editing you’ll want to make sure you:

  • Avoid using contractions in formal writing
  • Use active voice instead of passive voice wherever possible
  • Make sure the transitions between sections are as smooth as possible
  • Remember that specific examples are better than generalizations

Even if your essay is not too long, be sure that you have a concisely-worded document. If you can remove words without changing your meaning, do so. Then use the newly-created space to add more information to your essay. However, be cautious in including information in your essay that appears elsewhere in the application; once is enough for most items.


Make sure your essay adheres to any restrictions on the font or type size used.


Do not rely on the spell-checker in your word processing program. Review meticulously for correct grammar and usage. Look carefully at punctuation and spacing. Check for consistency in style and formatting. Presentation is critical.

Before submitting your essay:

  • Make copies of the essay, if needed. Remember to make an extra copy for yourself.
  • Follow the instructions from the fellowship sponsors as to signing, dating, and certifying the essay. (Each fellowship differs) You may need to sign, date, and certify each copy separately.